Gaius Musonius Rufus - Philosophy


His philosophy, which is in many respects identical with that of his pupil, Epictetus, is marked by its strong practical tendency. Philosophy, which he wanted everyone to cultivate, is not a mere matter of words, of instruction, or of the school; but everyone by their own reflection and practice may pursue for themselves. He considers it becoming in a philosopher to wear the philosopher's robe, to allow the hair to grow, and to retire from society. At the same time he is convinced of the power of philosophy over the minds of people; by it he hopes to heal all the corruption of the human mind. His philosophy consists entirely of the rules for the conduct of life; all knowledge ought to be serviceable to action. He does not reject logic: he regards it as a proof of a weak mind to decline to examine the fallacy which perplexes it; yet at the same time he expresses his disgust at the multitude of dogmas which fed the vanity of the sophists. He gives only a little attention to the physical doctrines of the Stoics; he asserts that the gods know all things without need of reasoning, since to them nothing can be obscure or unknown. The human soul he considers to be akin to the gods, and agrees with other Stoics that the soul is material, which after being corrupted by bodily influence, may be again purified and cleansed. The liberty of the rational soul (Greek: διάνοια) is strongly asserted by him.

Musonius pays much more attention to ethics than logic or physics; for he holds that philosophy is nothing else than an investigation and practice of what is becoming and obligatory; and philosophy, he says, is merely the pursuit of a virtuous life. He requires that all people, both men and woman should cultivate philosophy as the only sure road to virtue. He agrees that it is easy to follow one's own nature, and the only great impediment which he can find to a truly moral life is the prejudices with which the mind is filled from childhood, and the evil habits confirmed by practices. Thus he regards philosophy as the mental art of healing, and lays great stress on the practice of virtue, preferring practice to precept. He distinguishes two kinds of practice: the exercise of the mind in reflection and the adoption of good rules in life, and the endurance of bodily pains which affect both the soul and the body.

A life lived according to nature consists in social, friendly sentiments and temper, and in contentment with what will simply alleviate the primary needs of nature. He combats all selfishness, and regards marriage not merely as becoming and natural, but as the principle of the family and state, and the preservation of the whole human race. He zealously protests against the exposure of children as an unnatural custom, and at every opportunity recommends the practice of benevolence. His precepts for the simple life are carefully detailed, and he gives precise regulations for diet, the care of the body, clothing, and even furniture. Thus he recommends that the hair should be allowed to grow long and not cut too close; and he honours the beard on the basis that the hair was provided by nature for covering the body. He forbids meat, and prefers food which is furnished and offered by nature to that which requires the art of cooking.

Musonius Rufus expressed a progressive view of the role of women in philosophy, arguing that because men's and women's capacity to understand virtue was the same, both should be trained in philosophy.

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